Doing Good With Good Friday Footy

Long drives through the Australian outback give ample time to pause and think. Recently, on the road to Karumba, I was reflecting on the role of tradition in sport. I was thinking that traditions and ceremonies help engender mythology and reverence for sport. In AFL football, this is in evidence during the Grand Final and, more pertinently, the annual ANZAC Day game between Essendon and Collingwood. But an interesting feature of the ANZAC Day game, along with many other “traditions”, is that it is a relatively recent phenomenon. With the AFL set to introduce a game of football on Good Friday, I began thinking of how a game of sport can create its own tradition while conflicting with the religious tradition of the day.

I should note quite early that despite being raised with a Christian framework, I do not support their traditions. Quite the opposite. I retain no reverence for Good Friday and would like nothing more than to watch an interesting game of sport on that public holiday. While holding this strident belief, I understand that not all others do and for the AFL to be successful in their venture they must appease a great many people.

Another challenge for the AFL is to make the fixture equitable. A regular criticism of the ANZAC Day game is that the two clubs who benefit most are already rich and powerful. A game on Good Friday would have to be shared for it to be accepted competition-wide.

While musing on this very point, my mind went to the other side of the world and a vastly different winter sport – ice hockey. Each year on New Year’s Day, two teams duke it out in the annual Winter Classic. This tradition is an unqualified success in that it is hugely popular. There are two interesting points to note. The first is that this is a very recent tradition with the first Winter Classic being held in 2008. The second is that two different teams play each year.

These two points should give the AFL confidence in establishing a new game on Good Friday. It is possible to create new traditions using different teams each year.

But the Winter Classic is successful for other reasons. Firstly, it is held on a public holiday where there are few other distractions. Check. But, most importantly, it is successful because it celebrates an aspect of ice hockey that had been phased out of the NHL. In an incredibly professional sport, all games of the NHL season are played in purpose-built indoor arenas. All bar one that is. The Winter Classic is played outdoors, celebrating a traditional aspect of the game and the way that most people still learn to skate and play hockey. Celebrating the heritage of ice hockey has certainly helped make the Winter Classic a success.

The ANZAC Day game works because it incorporates the military traditions of the day into the ceremonies of the game. The day is a celebration of our military history and of our national game. But incorporating the Christian traditions into a game of football is problematic and, quite frankly, should not be attempted and should not occur. Not, I might add, because of deference to religion but because of deference to football and multi-culturalism. The day cannot marginalise those of us that do not believe or believe in something else.

Creating reverence for the day will be a big challenge for the AFL and it will be undermined with criticism that they are not showing reverence for the Christian faith. At this point on the drive, I interrupted the hum of the tyres and told Mrs Bugler of my thoughts. Mrs Bugler proposed a neat solution to some of the problems.

A former employee of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Mrs Bugler drew my attention to a very successful tradition, the Good Friday Appeal. If part of the game was based around raising awareness of and funds for the Royal Children’s Hospital in the Good Friday Appeal, the AFL would at once co-opt an existing tradition and create a broader and worthwhile cause for the game. After all, one would think doing some good on Good Friday would have universal religious appeal.

Envisage a situation in which players from both teams (different each year) spent the week leading up to the game volunteering at the Hospital. In your mind’s eye, see tin-rattlers outside the stadium with thousands of fans giving generously as they excitedly walked toward the ground. Imagine, if you will, a proud Gillon McLachlan handing over an over-sized novelty cheque to the Royal Children’s Hospital worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, a percentage of the day’s revenue raising. How could you criticise the AFL for having a game of football on Good Friday when it is doing so much good for the community? And the opportunities for marketing this relationship are endless. Thank you, Mrs Bugler.

The simple beauty of this suggestion becomes greater as you think more on it. The idea is transportable in that interstate teams could do similarly in their own city. It is not tied to a particular ground and I’m confident other hospitals would also appreciate the benefits. The Good Friday game could travel, much like the Winter Classic does each year to a different outdoor field.

The modern success of the ANZAC Day clash stemmed from the first game in 1995 when Essendon and Collingwood fought out a storied draw in front of a packed crowd. This stroke of luck must be acknowledged in the creation of tradition. Without that stroke of luck the day may ebb and flow, more like the fortunes of Melbourne vs Collingwood on Queen’s Birthday. Mrs Bugler’s suggestion does not necessarily create a Good Friday mythology or heritage like the Winter Classic or ANZAC Day. But it does enable the AFL to use existing traditions to build its own tradition while appealing to a broad audience on a religious holiday. Hopefully, with all teams in concert everyone could benefit. Especially the kids.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Hi Liam I have always felt there should be a game on , Good Friday tied in with the
    RCH appeal and totally agree that surely overall it would gain overall approval .
    South Adelaide have got on the front foot here and have started up having a game on
    Good Friday and it attracts far more spectators than a normal game With Anzac Day we thankfully have become far more patriotic as a country it does not need , Ess v Coll in the , SANFL it is the previous years grand finalists a fairer better programming to the biggest minor round game of the year
    Thanks Liam

  2. Hi Malcolm,

    The SANFL idea does sound like a good one. With an ex-Adelaide lad in charge, no doubt that will get spoken of at the AFL!

    I think that it doesn’t need much to gain popular support. People will happily use any excuse to watch another game of footy!


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